PAGE COUNT: 256
Rebecca, a Mennonite young woman, leaves home because of the pressure to conform to her grandmother’s Old Order Amish ways. She makes wrong choices, gets innocently embroiled in trouble, flees, then discovers a peaceful sanctuary in the seclusion of a kind and gentle Amish family.
Even though Rebecca’s problems multiply when she evades the truth, her faith in God deepens. She falls in love with Aaron King, an Old Order Amishman, but he doesn’t know her true identity–or does he? Besides, doesn’t he belong to Sarah, Rebecca’s Amish friend? How can she permit his kisses? How can they betray sweet Sarah?
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SEARCH FOR EDEN (256 pages)
(Amish Eden Series Book 1)
by Barbara Michel
June Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Rebecca Wenger stood at the counter in the back room of a flower shop, soothed by soft music and surrounded by dozens of fragrant blossoms. A canary sang heartily from the cage by the window. Tranquility encompassed her. She bit her lower lip. Does my peace have false roots?
Swiping a withered leaf from her jeans, she struggled to ignore the twinge of guilt that pinched her insides. She selected a yellow rose that matched her ruffled blouse, caressed the yellow petals, then plunked it into a tall milk glass vase.
Could Margie have been wrong?
She pictured her Englisher cousin’s long flowing dark hair and sparkling green eyes. Margie was loveable–at least Rebecca had thought so, before she’d taken her advice and removed her prayer cap to apply for a job in this flower shop.
At first, she’d felt unprotected and conspicuous, almost as though she were naked, but going without her cap gradually wore her down to acceptance. Margie had also talked her into dressing like an Englisher. She still felt self-conscious in jeans, but wore them to please her boss. She tossed her long tawny hair, enjoying the feeling of freedom she experienced as it swayed against her back; however. she hoped no Mennonites who knew her would see her dressed like this.
“That tells me this isn’t right,” she whispered, considering returning to her father’s home and suffering her Old Order Amish grandmother’s rebuke. She shook her head. She was eighteen . Wasn’t this job a step toward fulfilling her calling to enter nurse’s training? After all, her Mennonite Church approved of nursing. “If only Mammi Mary weren’t so …”
She plucked a pink carnation from a container for another arrangement and sniffed it. Her mind scrolled back two months to the day she’d gone shopping with Margie and made her decision to leave home in search of her Eden.
The gravel had crunched on Wenger’s driveway, a vehicle jerked to a stop, and a horn blasted. Rebecca had quickly finished rolling up her hair, pinned it firmly, and donned her prayer cap. Shoving her dull-green bedroom drapes aside, she’d glanced out the window and gasped. The car her Englisher cousin drove was so brilliant a red it made her blink and squint.
Rebecca’s father sanctioned her friendship with Margie, but Mammi Mary, who lived with them, was skeptical. Hoping the older woman would not glimpse the red car and try to thwart her leaving, she hurried outside to join her cousin.
Margie leaped from the car and tossed her long dark hair, a smile brightening her heart-shaped face. “Isn’t Daddy’s new car gorgeous?”
“Ja.” Rebecca glanced toward the garage. Her father’s car was black, including the bumpers, and had no trim. All Mennonite cars in the district were the same. The contrast between the two vehicles astounded her.
Margie side-stepped anxiously. “Let’s go!”
Rebecca tried not to covet as she compared her own subdued deep-blue print dress to the scarlet roses embroidered on the bodice and hem of her cousin’s white sundress.
“Hop in!” Margie swirled her full skirt and slid behind the wheel in one fluid movement. She waited for Rebecca to get in the passenger side. Glancing at Mary, who stood at the front door, she rolled her green eyes. “If I were you, I’d get out from under that old woman’s thumb.”
“Mammi means well, Margie, but I’ve thought about leaving.” Guilt swept through her, although she struggled to ignore it.
“Have you talked her into letting you enter nurse’s training with me this fall?”
“No.” She ran her fingers over the smooth tan leather upholstery. “Dad supports my decision, but he doesn’t want to upset Mammi Mary.”
Margie backed the car out of the driveway. “No one could stop me. You should have more pluck.”
Rebecca blinked. “More what?”
“Courage. Why don’t you get a job and save money to go into training on your own?”
Although leaving home was a temptation, Rebecca smiled at her misguided cousin and thought about Mammi Mary. The woman was so strict because she was raised Old Order Amish. Grandfather Wenger had been a carpenter. He’d felt he needed a pick-up to carry supplies, but the bishop had forbidden it. When he went against the Ordnung and bought a vehicle, the bishop gave him the choice of giving it up or suffering Meidung (Shunning). He’d kept the truck.
Margie rolled her green eyes toward Rebecca. “You could do with a little of your Grandfather Simon’s stubbornness!”
Picturing the old man, now deceased, Rebecca sighed. When the shunning started, he’d been unable to stand it. He’d left the Amish community and begged Mary to go with him. “Mammi accompanied Grandfather Simon to a Mennonite church, but her heart and mind remained Old Order Amish.
“That’s no reason to press you into her mold.”
Margie could be right, Rebecca thought, the urge to leave home tiptoeing around the fringe of her longing, again.
Grinning, Margie glanced at her. “There’s pink lipstick and a mirror in my purse.”
Unable to resist, Rebecca retrieved the mirror and peered at her reflection.
Margie laughed. “Your golden-brown eyes sparkle, almost all of the time.” She sighed. “I wish I had your oval face and delicate features.”
I am pretty. Rebecca bit her lower lip. A sermon about vanity would be forthcoming, should Mammi perceive so vain a thought. She shoved the mirror back into her cousin’s purse as though imagining Mammi’s reaction had been a rebuke.
On New Holland Pike, Margie pressed on the accelerator and the vehicle leaped forward. “Why was your grandfather’s truck such a big deal? Some Amish have cars.”
“The Beachy’s do, but my grandparents were Old Order.”
“Didn’t some of you Englisher mother’s culture rub off on you?”
“Mama joind the Mennonite Church when she married my father. To my knowledge, she never broke any Mennonite rules.”
Margie looked exasperated. “I know. When she died, my heart ached for you.”
“Even after five years, I miss her so,” Rebecca said, picturing her mother’s sweet face. “Since Mammi Mary moved in with us, I’ve been pressured to comply with her ideas.”
Margie pursed her lips. “There has to be some way for you to get your freedom.”
Rebecca sighed. “Someday, I’m going to find my Eden.”
“Eden?” Margie laughed. “That isn’t far from Route Twenty-three.”
“I don’t mean the town. I mean like Eden in the Bible. My Eden will be peaceful and free. I don’t want to be unfaithful to God, Margie. I just want to get away from Mammi’s ancient rules and become a nurse.”
“You feel God wants you to be a nurse. It’s up t you to find a way.” Stopping her vehicle to make a turn, Margie pointed to an approaching Amish buggy. “Get a lookk at the handsome creature who’s driving. Speaking of Eden, there’s a man I wouldn’t mind spending time with behind some bush.”
“Margie! She glanced at her cousin, but the young Amishman drew her attention. She’d seen him at Zimmerman’s store in Intercourse and once at Central Market. Each time he’d been occupied with a business transaction and hadn’t seemed to notice her.
Margie grinned. “His name’s Aaron. My boyfriend and I met him one Saturday night in Lancaster. He secretly has a car that he keeps at a filling station.”
Stopping his horse at the light, Aaron removed his straw hat to swing at a bee. His dark wavy hair shimmered in the sun. He stared at Margie’s bright-red car, his dark eyes sparkling.
Margie pressed the button to lower her window. “Hi, Aaron!” she called boisterously, waving her arm out the window as she pulled away.
He looked surprised, then smiled and waved. “Hi, wie gehts (how are you)?”
Abashed, Rebecca averted her face, but curiosity made her look out the rear window. Aaron continued to peer at the car until his buggy turned the corner, cutting off his view.
“That’s what I call a real hunk!” Margie sighed. “It’s too bad he’s Amish.”
Tightening her lips, Rebecca eyed her cousin. “Did you need to yell like a harlot?”
Margie laughed. “I was just being friendly. He told us he was twenty-four. He’s clean shaven, so he’s available–if your interested.”
Rebecca shook her head. “I wouldn’t want to get involved with an Old Order Amishman.”
“Right! That would only be exchanging your strict way of life for one that was more so.” She laughed. “It might be fun, though–temporarily.”
Rebecca’s eyes widened. “Margie!”
She laughed. “Don’t worry. My boyfriend would kill me.” She turned right onto Route 30. “I’m heading for Park City Mall, unless you have some other idea.”
“Fine. I want to stop at Phar-mor.”
Margie’s eyes sparkled. “I’m going to Watt and Shand’s, and there’s an outfit in Boscov’s that I just have to have.”
Rebecca studied her cousin’s sandals. “You always wear such pretty shoes.”
“You could afford clothes if you got a job.”
“There’s a florist in Lancaster who’s looking for someone to answer the phone and deliver flower arrangements. I considered the job, but . . .” She shrugged. “I’d rather have fun this summer.”
“I want to do what’s right, Margie, but someday I’ll get enough nerve to begin my search for Eden.”
“You’ll never find it under your Mammi’s thumb.”
“I suppose not.”
“I’ll get you a copy of Vance Troy’s newspaper ad. Just considering a job with him can’t hurt.”
A flower shop. A vision of being encircled by vivid aromatic blooms made Rebecca’s heart race. As Margie turned right onto Harrisburg Pike, Rebecca asked. “Would you help me find an apartment?”
“You bet!” Her green eyes glistened, and she laughed. “I’d have to give you lessons on how to act like an Englisher.”
“I don’t have to be anything but myself!”
Margie wrinkled her nose. “It would be more fun if you tried out the freedom I’m used to.”
Determination gradually increased Rebecca’s courage. Once she demonstrated that she could make it on her own, maybe Mammi would approve of nurse’s training. “I think I’ll take the job,” she said slowly, “if Mr. Troy will hire me.”
“Great!” Margie flipped her hand. Eden, here she comes!”
The door behind Rebecca slammed. She jumped and whirled, her mind snapping back to the present. The overhead lights shimmered on Vance Troy’s sandy hair as he entered the room. He juggled a box of roses, a container of daisies, and a basket of white chrysanthemums. He was five-foot-ten with a medium frame and clean-cut features. There wasn’t a wrinkle in his tan slacks, but he wore his matching shirt unbuttoned at the neck, giving him a casual appearance. A generous smile made creases at the corners of his brownish-green eyes. “You have a knack with flowers, Rebecca.”
She sniffed a yellow rose. “Blossoms remind me of vitality and life.”
Setting the mums on the counter, he pointed to several large basket arrangements and laughed. “I assume you’re not referring to those.”
“The flowers are gorgeous, but I don’t relish delivering to funeral parlors.”
“Joe’s delivering them in the van.” Reaching out, he grasped her hand. “I set the three center pieces, a kitchen planter, and the other vases of flowers in the rack in the station wagon.”
“Thank you.” She smiled, but withdrew her hand.
“How soon will you be ready to make the deliveries?”
“This is the last bouquet. One more sprig of baby’s breath will complete it.”
“Good.” He bent closer to inspect her handiwork and nodded his approval. “We have a lot to do this afternoon, so I’d like you to get back as soon as possible.” He handed her some invoices and envelopes. “The addresses are all here.”
“I’ll try to rush the deliveries, Mr Troy.”
“Don’t get a speeding ticket.” Chuckling, he opened the outside door for her.
“Oh!” Joe Dinger’s tall frame shadowed the opening, his hand outstretched as though he’d been reaching for the knob. “Hi, Becky.” He looked at Vance. “I’m ready to deliver the funeral baskets.”
Vance grinned. “Don’t mix them up with the wedding decorations.”
Joe laughed. He looked a couple of years older than Rebecca. His brown eyes assessed her as he combed one hand through his short black hair. A smile softened his handsome features. “If you like, we can deliver the orders together.”
“She’s going in the opposite direction, Joe,” Vance said, then returned his gaze to Rebecca. “Are you free to have dinner with me tonight?”
“Thank you, Mr. Troy, but I want to get a birthday present ready to mail to my grandmother.” Smiling, she grabbed the paper bag containing the Old Order Amish outfit she’d made for Mammi. It was complete with a medium-blue dress, an apron, a prayer cap and a black bonnet. She’d even purchased a pair of shoes and black stockings for the old lady.
“Don’t forget this.” Joe swung her bright-red purse, then looped the handles over her arm.”
Vance held the door for her. “We’ll have dinner together some other time then, Rebecca.” He hurried to the white station wagon she used for making deliveries, opened the door behind the driver’s seat, and propped the vase in the rack.
Sliding behind the wheel, Rebecca flung her bag and purse onto the passenger’s seat. Vance was attractive, kind, and generous, but he wasn’t a Christian. Even though she pretended to be an Englisher, she vowed she wouldn’t get emotionally involved with a man if he weren’t Mennonite. Vance retreated as she started the engine, but turned to smile and wave before entering the shop.
Tourists who were anxious to see the nearby Amish communities poured into the city. She’d been driving such a short time that heavy traffic made her nervous. As she pulled from the parking space, her eyes flicked over a gray Taurus that cruised down Queen Street. She glanced at the blond man in the passenger’s seat, but it was the driver who caught her attention.
Aaron! She studied the Old Order Amishman Margie had called to as they passed his buggy. She’d seen him twice since, but didn’t think he’d noticed her.
After delivering all of the orders except two vases, she checked the address for one of them and turned in that direction.
Pulling into a familiar driveway, she set the brake, shifted to park, and let the engine idle. Taking one of the vases, she headed for the patio. This was one of Mr. Troy’s regular customers, so she tried hard to please him. She rang the doorbell, then stepped back.
Greg Mattis opened the door quickly, almost as though he’d been waiting for her. He was in his early twenties, but his brown hair was thinning on top. Excess weight stretched his orange T-shirt, and fat bulged over his belt. “Good afternoon,” he said, reaching for the flowers.
As Rebecca stepped forward to proffer the bouquet, she tripped on an uneven tile and lost her grip on the vase. She shrieked as it crashed on the patio and hurled shards of glass in all directions. Water splashed, and the flowers tumbled into a colorful array around her feet. The puddle of water widened and oozed under her yellow tennis shoes. She peered curiously at the vase. Apparently it had a false bottom that had contained a packet of something. “What’s that?”
Seizing the packet before the water reached it, Mattis shoved it into his pocket. “It’s freshner for the flowers.”
“But . . . we put freshner in the water.”
He shrugged. “There’s extra for when I change the water.”
“Oh.” She stared at the shattered glass, wondering why Vance hadn’t told her about the additional packet. “I’m sorry about the flowers, Mr. Mattis.” Bending, she began to gather the scattered blooms. “I’ll go back for another arrangement, and you can keep these as an apology.”
“Forget it. It was an accident. I’ll clean that up.”
She straightened, handed him a pink carnation with a broken stem, and grinned sheepishly.
“Thanks.” Accepting the flower, he chuckled, but something strange glittered in his eyes.
Rebecca turned and hurried back to the wagon. As she got into the vehicle, a slip of paper in her pocket crinkled, reminding her she hadn’t had Mr. Mattis sign that he’d received the delivery. Vance insisted on it, so she supposed, even though the vase had been broken and the flowers damaged, a signature might be necessary.
I’ll make a note on the receipt concerning the breakage. Hating to return to his house, she made her way back across the lawn, took one step onto the patio, then froze. Greg Mattis’s husky voice drifted to her through a screen. Evidently he was talking to someone by phone.
“Yeah, but when she busted the vase, she saw the packet of stuff.” His voice sounded harsh and threatening.
Her hand moved to her throat. Why’s he making such a big deal over a package of flower freshner?
“If it was up to me,” Mattis continued, “I wouldn’t take any chances. She’s smart, and probably caught on. She could ruin not only me, but your entire operation.”
Operation? A chill trickled down Rebecca’s back.
“Yeah, well, if I were you, I’d silence her to make sure.”
Silence me? Whirling, she rapidly retreated, praying the man hadn’t seen her. Her hands were sweaty as she gripped the stearing wheel, and beads of cold sweat dotted her forehead. What had she bungled into? The wagon hopped as she backed into Queen Street, nearly colliding with an oncoming car. Jerking to a stop, she roared the engine and shot out of the driver’s path and onto a side street.
“I’m probably being silly,” she said., yet apprehension gnawed at her. What if that packet wasn’t flower freshener? What else could it be? Could Vance Troy or Joe Dinger be doing something illegal? Both men had been friendly and considerate. She frowned. What about Doug or Gene, the greenhouse workers? Could one of them be pulling something behind Vance’s back? What about the other business contacts? Whom should she talk to? Whom could she trust?
Why’d I let Margie talk me into leaving home? She blinked tears away to clear her vision. “God help me!” She tried to picture her grandmother’s reproving face, but all she could remember were the love and concern in the old woman’s eyes.
Not knowing what to do, she figured she might as well deliver the last vase of flowers.
A black Daytona waited at the intersection. Gene! She eyed one of the greenhouse workers. Had he been the one notified of the broken vase? Glancing her way, he smiled. Instead of it soothing her quandary, it increased her anxiety. What was behind his dark-blue eyes? He shoved a lock of truant hair from his forehead. His round face, which before had looked boyish, now seemed to appear suspicious.
Rebecca stepped on the accelerator, thankful Gene was caught at the red light. The wind whipped through her open window, tossing her long hair, but it no longer seemed like a symbol of freedom. He rast delivery was in Strasburg. She wished she could just forget it and go home. She turned onto King Street and followed Route 462. As she branched right onto Strasburg Pike, her tormented mind replayed the phone conversation.
A glance over the back of the seat made her shiver. Did the remaining vase have a false bottom? Did they all? Deciding to check, she pulled off the road and stopped to retrieve the vase. Her fingers trembled as she studied the bottom. The seam had been expertly camouflaged, but she could detect a faint line. One twist unscrewed the bottom and a packet of powder dropped onto her lap. She gasped. Somehow, she knew this was not freshner. Was her life in danger? She shivered. “What should I do?”